Chapter 29

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Sunday, October 19th

I wake up with cold cramped muscles, stiff as a board from sleeping in a hard hospital chair. It takes me a split second to figure out where I am and why, but it all comes flooding back, tearing down any emotional strength I might have acquired during my short doze. Why, God?
I jerk my eyes to Josh, where he lays extremely pale on the hospital bed.  The heart monitor beeps like a time bomb, and the horrid stillness in the room terrifies me. The scent of strong antiseptic and over all, the stench of death. The reek of it rapes my nostrils and plays with my mind.
"Leah?" 
I jump and look over to my left. Cool green eyes meet my brown ones, and Josh's dad gives me a sad smile, then pats my hand. 
"It'll be okay, darling." He turns his bright colored eyes to Joshua and blinks rapidly, a very sorry attempt to hide his tears. 
My mouth adopts a mind of its own and twists drastically downward, and I shift on the hard seat of the chair. I can feel my dress sticking still to my skin, glued there by blood, now stiff and dried.
It's all your fault. If you hadn't been there he wouldn't be in this place. He wouldn't have gotten hit.
I frown as tears roll off my eyelashes, gritting my teeth as I glare at the wall behind his bed. 
"Why?" I whisper hoarsely, and suddenly I'm reliving it all.
*FLASHBACK*
"We've traced your call, and an ambulance will be with you shortly."
The phone fell from my hands and I closed my eyes, a weak attempt to calm myself. But the wet warmth that seeped through the turquoise lace of my dress reminded me that I might lose him, and I couldn't let that happen.
"Somebody!" I shouted quietly, and bowed my head.
I saw headlights coming, but no siren. I wished I could disappear. Be invisible.
I felt extremely relieved when I saw a red dress and not a man. 
"Leah?!" Bailey ran toward me, not stumbling once in her six-inch spikes.
She fell to her knees beside me, and gently pushed his hair back to inspect the three inch gash on his temple. "What happened?" She gasped.
I spoke haltingly between sobs. "Erik-came-back."
"How did he get this?" Our tears fell together onto him.
"He hit him, and he was wearing th-that ring..." My stomach churned wildly, threatening to empty on slightest change of thought.
"Oh my god..." She trailed off into silence. That ring, that evil looking skull ring. The sharp edge on the jawbone had cut me too many times to count. It was dangerous in more ways than one, by rumor. After Erik left the school, word was that it was a gang sign meaning he had killed, and therefore was a working gang member. I realized then how dead I could have been...
My thoughts were interrupted when suddenly, sirens seemed to fill the air, drowned out my cries and my other thoughts. Bright red and blue lights blinded my sore eyes, and I went into hysterics as they started to take him away.
"NO!!!" I wailed, as a paramedic held me back, and two others hoisted Joshua onto a stretcher and began to carry him away.
Bailey tried to calm me down, to no avail.
"Can you give her a tranquilizer or something to make her calm down?" She sobbed, her shoulders shaking as he handed me over to her.
I assume he nodded, because it wasn't but thirty seconds later before I felt something sting my arm and the world began to fall away into empty black. But before the darkness consumed me, one last odd, little, random, thought raced through my frenzied mind. Cora wouldn't be "stealing" the dress now that it was stained in his blood.
*END OF FLASHBACK*
I gulp as I watch the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, my hands cold and still in my lap. My cheek twitches as I struggle to hold back a grimace that threatens to overpower my face.
"What did the doctor say?" I ask quietly, not looking away from the patch of wall I've trained my eyes on.
"He said that he has a small concussion, and he stitched up his head. That's about all."
"About all?" I venture, my voice choking painfully.
"His heartbeat is irregular."
"What does that mean?"
"I'm not sure. You could go ask him."
I stand shakily up and with one last tearful glance at Joshua's still form, I leave the room. I need answers, and for that I need the doctor.
His office is at the end of the hall, and he's sitting over a small stack of papers. I knock on the doorpost. 
"Doctor Reimer?"
He looks me over, obviously not impressed by my appearance. "Is this about young Mr Hart?"
I sigh shakily. "Yes. I want to know what it means."
"What?"
I gesture absently. "His heart. What is going on? Why is his heartbeat irregular?"
He frowns, pushing his glasses further onto the bridge of his nose. "Mr Hart is an oddity. His condition confuses me, so I'm not sure."
"What could it be?"
"It could be a heart murmur, or it could be something much worse."
"Wh-what?" I stutter. "What else  could it be?"
He looks me in the eye solemnly. "I can't say it is, but it might be heart cancer."
*-*-*-*
After several more minutes of conversing with Dr Reimer, my hysterics just barely contained, I leave his office, shaking like a leaf, with a throb of fear burning in my chest. 
The hallway stinks strongly of drugs, and the atmosphere is oppressive, like what I imagine a concentration camp would feel like. It all feels of death. I clench my jaw hard in reply to the voice screaming in my head. 
Death.
Oh, God help me...
I slip quietly into his room, after checking the number on the door twice against the one scribbled hastily on my wrist by someone else. 
I am met by the mournful and teary eyed stares of his two youngest big sisters. I do my best to offer a brave smile, but it slides off my face like the head slipping from a snowman. I wipe my nose on my wrist and walk to his bedside, then stand there with them all, waiting hopefully for him to wake up. 
"Why did he do it?" Lacey whispers.
I frown and brush away my tears with my fingertips. "I told him not to. I told him it wasn't worth a fight, but he wouldn't listen."
"A fight over what?"
I release a gasping cry. "Me. He was defending me. It's my fault."
Her expression changes from an angry sadness to a sympathetic sadness, and much to my surprise, she pulls me into a hug. "It's not your fault." She pats my back gently. "It's not your fault." 
"But, oh God, I don't want him to die! He can't! Lacey, promise me that he won't die!" I whisper-shout, sobbing. 
She opens her mouth to reply, but is interrupted.
"You didn't give up on me yet, did you?" Comes a weak voice from my left.
"Joshua!" I cry, and suddenly wish I could get closer to him. I start to cry harder.
"Hey, hey. I'm alright." He reaches up and softly strokes my cheek, wiping away the tears. "I'm not going anywhere."
I drop to my knees at his bed and prop my elbows on the edge, bringing his one tubeless hand to my lips. "Joshua-"
He pulls his hand out of mine and tucks my hair behind my ears. "I'm fine. Are you okay?"
I nod and mouth a "Yeah." , even though I'm really not okay. 
He raises one eyebrow. "You're lying."
I shake my head. "No I'm not."
He smirks weakly. "Leah, your hands are shaking."
"My tranquilizer hasn't fully worn off." I lie swiftly.
"Tranquilizer?"
"Bailey was scared that I'd hurt myself trying to get to you, so she had one of the paramedics knock me out." I say quietly. There is a short silence.
"How bad is the it all?" He winces when he raises the wrong eyebrow and pulls his stitches.
"Well, I thought you were going to die. What do you remember?"
He frowns. "I remember getting a sharp pain in my chest and freezing, then everything went black."
I nod. "Please don't ever do that again, Joshua Gene Hart." 
"I won't." His eyes search mine as he tickles my cheek with his fingers, sending shivers up and down my spine. 
"Josh, you scared the crap out of us." His sister Mary-Raine says somberly.
"As Leah said before, don't do that again. And if you do, we might just kill you ourselves." Lacey adds, offering a teary-eyed smiled.
"I didn't want to get pounded, I'll have you know. It wasn't a choice I conscientiously made." 
"Still." I whisper.
He smiles. "I'd kiss you if my head wasn't already spinning. I'm afraid if I kissed you know, I'd probably pass out."
I laugh, sniffling. "I love you."
"I love you too." He looks around. "Where's Dad?"
"He went to get breakfast. We told him we'd watch you until he came back." Lacey replies.
"Where are Kate and Jody?"
She frowns, causing a fold to appear between her eyebrows. "They wanted to come right away, but they have four kids each to wrangle, and it's only six am, so they are coming later, after they get the kids ready."
"Okay." He looks back to me. "How bad did the doctor say it was?"
"He said that you only have a minor concussion, and you should be fine." I say, trying not to allow the waver into my speech pattern.
"Leah, what did he really say?" 
"That's what he said."
"Your hands are shaking, Leah." He sighs. "You're lying. What did he say?"
I close my eyes hard, and clench my fists tightly to keep my hands from shaking. "He said, he said..." I trail off when I hear a bird singing outside, a cheerful, happy song carrying well over the cool, fall air. The world is still turning, even though mine has frozen.
"He said there was something wrong with your heart." I murmur.

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